Pope Benedict XII

Yes, the number is right. I am talking about Pope Benedict XII who was elected into the Papacy in December of 1334, enthroned in January of 1335 and died on this day (April 25) in 1342.

The arms at the top of this post are those of Benedict XII and are not (entirely) blank.

The blazon is simple: Argent a bordure Gules.

However, the anniversary of his death is just an excuse to write about his most intriguing Coat of Arms. Why indeed would he have arms that look like a blank?

To be honest, when I first saw them, I thought that they were just a placeholder denoting that this particular Pope did not have arms. But, when I probed a bit more, I discovered that he did and these are indeed his arms!

Though I didn’t find a definitive reason why he had these arms, I can only speculate.

Born Jacques Fournier sometime around 1285, he came from a humble family and was the son of a baker or mill worker. His uncle was a Cistercian monk and Abbot (who incidentally became a Cardinal later) and took charge of young Jacques’ education.

It was his exposure to the life in the monastery that attracted Jacques to the cloth. As he rose in prominence, he took on more and more responsibilities.

He was one of the key players in the persecution of the Albigensians (aka Cathars) and was known for his zeal in this pursuit.

For his work in the purge of the heretics, he was rewarded by Pope John XXII with a cardinalate of Prisca on December 18, 1327. Since he maintained the white robes of the Cistercian Order he was known from then on as the “White Cardinal”.

This is the reason, I believe, he chose those very simple arms. The Argent (white) field as a pun on his nickname and the Gules (red) bordure (border) to denote his rank as Cardinal (from the red galero Cardinals use).

If true, it was a stroke of heraldic genius!

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